Right, now I will grant you that this was not a story that really warranted almost 1200 words. However, it came time for me to write CMU’s Beef Of The Week column and this was the pop scuffle that most made me laugh this week. My second choice was Rihanna v an Irish farmer. But other than obsessing over his comment that she and her team should “acquaint themselves with a greater God”, I couldn’t see much scope for stringing it out for longer than I had in the original story. Bloc Party not knowing if they’d split up or not though; that I could labour to the point of ridiculousness. So, here you go…
So, this is most likely a big fuss about nothing. In fact, a cynic might suggest that this whole controversy over whether or not Kele Okereke is still Bloc Party’s frontman or not was some kind of carefully crafted PR stunt. But that cynic would be an idiot, because nothing about this seems careful at all, let alone crafted.
This story begins on 27 Dec last year, when a picture was posted to Bloc Party’s official Twitter profile showing all four members together (with a dog who had hitherto not been part of the band and has not been mentioned since). As people tried to decipher the cryptic message that was attached to the picture – “Merry Christmas from the Bloc” – experts all agreed that this meant that the band were definitely about to break the hiatus they had begun in 2009.
It looked more like that was a correct assessment in March, when Ash frontman Tim Wheeler told The Sun that Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack, who had been moonlighting with the band for about a year, was leaving. No one said he was leaving to rejoin Bloc Party, but hopes were raised further.
And those hopes were fulfilled the following month when Lissack confirmed that there was new Bloc Party material on the way. He told NME: “We met up at Christmas … and talked about doing another record. Kele and I started working on Bloc Party stuff together and separately. We’re having a bit of a break until the festivals are over, because people have commitments during the summer, but we’re going to get back properly in September and sit in a rehearsal studio to work on new band material”.
Bang! There you go, it’s happening. Definitely happening. Definitely. Except that come September, Okereke announced not that he was going into the studio with Bloc Party, but that he had already recorded a new solo EP and would be releasing it in October. Not very much about that would suggest he was about to start working with his bandmates on new Bloc Party material.
So, the obvious question came a few weeks later when he was interviewed by NME – what’s going on? “I was actually having lunch about three weeks ago, just here on Eighth Avenue and I saw somebody walk past and I recognised the haircut”, he said. “It was Russell. I was like: ‘Hey!’ but he didn’t see me and I followed him around the corner and then I saw Matt, Gordon and Russell [ie all his bandmates] all standing outside this rehearsal space. They all went inside”.
He added: “I hope I haven’t been fired. I don’t really know what’s going on, because we haven’t really spoken recently and I’m a bit too scared to ask”.
Asked to comment on Okereke’s remarks on Twitter, Lissack said: “I expect they [NME] will be announcing the auditions soon”. At the time, most took this to be a sarcastic comment, though a week later that is exactly what happened. Well, sort of.
In an interview with the music weekly, the guitarist said: “It’s not really a secret because Kele’s been pretty busy doing solo stuff and it looks like he’s going to be doing that a bit longer. The other three of us wanted to meet up and make music. We were talking about just doing an instrumental thing, but now we might get a singer as well, to properly put some music out and play some shows”.
Confirming that there had been no contact with the band’s former frontman, he added: “I haven’t spoken to Kele for a couple of months, I guess since the festivals when I was doing stuff with Ash. But there’s no bad vibes”.
That’s right, Lissack returned to Ash as well. Who’s the real bad guy here? It doesn’t really matter, the story was broken – Kele Okereke is being replaced as the frontman of the band he co-founded and that made him famous. His bandmates planned to carry on without the very man that many would probably see as their key member. Shocking news.
Of course, Lissack never actually said that Okereke was out of the band. Actually, saying “Kele’s been pretty busy doing solo stuff and it looks like he’s going to be doing that a bit longer” would more likely suggest that Lissack expected Okereke to come back at some point. But whatever, it did seem that the other members of Bloc Party were planning to do something without him.
Commenting on the NME story, Okereke wrote on his blog: “Hmm, I don’t know what to make of this. A big part of me is laughing HARD at all of this but another part of me is all like WTF? I’m quite curious as to what a Bloc Party audition would be like? I wonder if they would let me sit on the panel so I could be a judge Tyra Banks style?”
Maybe he could, that sounds like fun. And reality TV shows have been created on flimsier premises. Plus it would be fine, because Okereke is actually still a member of the band. We know this because Si White, who co-manages both Bloc Party and Kele’s solo career, tweeted on Wednesday: “For those that keep asking, Bloc Party’s membership consists of the same four people it has consisted of since 2003″.
To confirm, those people are Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes, Matt Tong… and Kele Okereke.
The same day, the Bloc Party website was insisting that “Bloc Party is still Bloc Party”. Although that does tell us less about the current line-up. I mean, The Sugababes are apparently still The Sugababes, aren’t they?
But I think what’s happened here is simple confusion has allowed this story to run out of control. Back in April when he announced that the band were planning to work on new material, Lissack also said: “I’ve really missed playing some of our songs again. The time away has really just reignited the passion I have for Bloc Party”.
The real story, the story it’s somehow taken over 1000 words to get to, is that three quarters of Bloc Party are planning to do something together that might be quite cool, but which will ultimately be something of a side project while they wait to get back to work properly once Kele is available. They probably should have let Kele know this though.
But anyway, narked that they are being accused of making up the whole thing, the folks at NME have released the audio of their recent interviews with Okereke and Lissack conducted by writer Dan Smith, so you can make your own mind up.